Football: Badger battles numbers
Notre Dame safety Chris Badger, shown during a recent practice, has shaken the rust but is now battling numbers at safety.
By Al Lesar
6:59 am, August 17, 2012
Irish Sports Report
Didn't take long for Chris Badger to get a souvenir from his first preseason football camp at Notre Dame.
He wore the gash on his forehead like a badge of honor.
“One of my strengths is being a physical player,” Badger said. “I like to hit. I like contact. If we're running a tackling drill and they're running out of runners, I'll jump in. I'll run and hit somebody.”
OK, the 6-foot, 193-pound freshman seems to have the required attitude to play safety with the Irish.
Even with a logjam of bodies at the position, Badger has a leg up.
He's not a typical freshman. Badger actually was an early-enrollee in January, 2010. He spent the spring semester getting acquainted with the program, then decided to leave for 18 months on his Mormon mission to Ecuador.
He's back and ready to go, with all his eligibility intact.
That's not to say the safety position looks the same as it did spring, 2010. At that time, there may have been five healthy bodies, at most, to fill the two spots. Now, there could be as many as a dozen.
“It's definitely different,” Badger said of the competition on hand. “All you can do is focus on yourself and work hard.”
Of course, Badger isn't the same guy who walked away from campus more roughly two years ago. That mission helped others, but it had an impact on himself.
“(The experience) put a better perspective on my life,” Badger said. “It gave me more drive, more motivation. I met so many great people in Ecuador. It's the greatest thing I've ever done.
“It was complete service. I paid my own way. When you serve others, you come to find your true self. I try to apply everything I've learned from my mission to my life — being disciplined, trust in myself and in God, and working hard.”
That trust could go a long way toward keeping Badger from getting lost in the numbers in the Irish secondary. While the guys around him had football as their main focus for the past year, Badger fit in the conditioning aspect of the game when he could.
“My No. 1 focus was preaching the Gospel and helping as many people as I could,” Badger said. “I dedicated myself in the mornings and nights to do the best I could (in conditioning). I focused most on speed and agility.
“I don't think a day went by when I didn't think about football. It worked out. I feel great.”
Still too early to actually see the results. At safety heading into the season, it's Jamoris Slaughter, Zeke Motta and everyone else. Austin Collinsworth would have been a third quality safety, but a shoulder injury has all but scrapped that option for the season.
Fifth-year Dan McCarthy could be a contender for playing time, but confidence is still an issue. Sophomore Matthias Farley is the latest to surge toward the top of the depth chart.
That leaves special teams senior hit-man Chris Salvi, sophomore Eilar Hardy and freshmen Nicky Baratti and John Turner as the most likely candidates to compete with Badger for the opportunity to at least be listed on the depth chart.
Baratti could be one of the intriguing characters looking for some sort of opportunity this fall. A well-versed athlete from Texas, the 6-foot-1, 206-pounder hasn't played defense since his sophomore year of high school.
He split time between quarterback, running back and receiver the past two years. The adjustment period has been significant.
“The backpedaling was really different,” Baratti said. “The game's faster. A lot more coverages go into the scheme. With all the signals and calls, you've gotta get practice at it.”
If there really is safety in numbers, the Irish should be in good shape.